A new report published by the National Audit Office (NAO) has concluded that the Government’s flagship Universal Credit system “has not delivered value for money and it is uncertain that it ever will”.
The damning report catalogues a series of embarrassing failures by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in the roll-out and implementation of Universal Credit, and comes less than a day after the Department lost a High Court battle over the way the new benefit treats people with severe disabilities.
It also criticises the slow roll-out of the scheme and takes a side-swipe at DWP ministers who falsely claimed the “Business Case clearly demonstrates that Universal Credit provides value for money and huge benefits for claimants”, and that “Universal Credit supports people into work, will help them to progress whilst in work, and represents clear value for money for the whole economy”.
“Both we, and the Department, doubt it will ever be possible for the Department to measure whether the economic goal of increasing employment has been achieved”, the NAO report says.
It adds: “This, the extended timescales and the cost of running Universal Credit compared to the benefits it replaces cause us to conclude that the project is not value for money now, and that its future value for money is unproven.
“We cannot be certain that Universal Credit will ever be cheaper to administer than the benefits it replaces.”
Commenting on the NAO’s report, Frank Field MP, who chairs the Work and Pensions Select Committee, said: “This report blows up the DWP’s constant assertion that everything is going well and that any criticism comes from those who wish to make trouble for Universal Credit.
“The points that individuals have raised with the Select Committee are now writ large as systemic faults within the system, and the Government is caught in a trap of its own making.
“Because ministers were taught to be in denial earlier the programme, it has advanced to a stage where there is now a mega cost to scrap it and a mega cost to taxpayers to continue with it.
“Either way, too many claimants are being screwed down into destitution while the DWP insists that all is okay.
“The Universal Credit we have seen is a shambles, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Sadly this report will make little difference if the senior officers running Universal Credit remain firmly entrenched in La La Land.”
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “It’s no surprise that the NAO has confirmed Universal Credit still isn’t working for many people.
“While Universal Credit is working well for some, more than a quarter of a million people are expected to wait longer than 5 weeks for their first full payment. This puts them at risk of falling behind on bills and getting into debt – a heavy price to pay for a system that isn’t working properly.
“Since Universal Credit was first introduced, we have helped tens of thousands of people who have struggled with the new system. Many of those are finding it hard to make their claim, which can further hamper their chances of receiving their benefit on time.
“The government must take action to fix these unacceptable problems with Universal Credit, ensuring people are paid on time and that adequate support is in place. This is especially important as the pace of the rollout increases.”